“I got just one life in a world that keeps on pushin’ me around. But I stand my ground and I won’t back down.” Tom Petty
Once again, a famous person has died, and family litigation has resulted. His wife of 16 years and his children from a prior marriage are each standing their ground in probate court litigation (1). Presumably, a wealthy rock star like Petty had some estate planning in place. So, what happened?
After the death of a parent, conflict and animosity frequently occurs between children of a prior union and a step-parent, regardless of how long the children’s parent and step-parent were married. Perhaps he did not provide specific guidance about how he wanted his unique assets handled and managed post death, or whom he wanted as the decision-maker(s). Perhaps his plan insufficiently addressed these issues. Perhaps Petty’s plan sufficiently addressed the issues but his plan and intentions were not communicated by him to his wife and children before his death.
While you may not have the assets of one of the best-selling music artists of all time (2), many of us nonetheless have complicated relationships, including children from prior relationships. And, as is evident by the number of disputed probate cases, many people will argue over assets that amount to much less than the Petty estate-perhaps even over the distribution of a sentimental record collection.
A judicial decision regarding assets impacts relationships that carry into future generations, and it likely is not part of the legacy you want to leave.
“The only good thing about getting older is you get smart enough to avoid unnecessary problems. You know what’s worth spending time on and what’s not. If I had known that at 20, life would have been so much easier, but you have to experience all these things so you figure out how to find your way through the woods.” Tom Petty (3)
The lesson to learn from this is that your legacy and family relationships are worth an investment of time. Review and update your estate plan documents to ensure they accurately reflect your intentions. While you have time and health, make your wishes, intentions and goals known. Manage the expectations of your loved ones and strive to preserve relationships and harmony during life and even after as part of your legacy.
3 Tom Petty, Billboard interview, 2014.